A huge summer ahead for Chelsea

A huge summer ahead for Chelsea

Chelsea’s FA Cup quarter final exit at the hands of Everton will probably be best remembered for the antics of Diego Costa. The striker’s red card inevitably overshadowed the performance of Romelu Lukaku and the progression he has made at Everton under Roberto Martinez since been deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge. The improvements in his movement, link up play and consistency are making him a very effective Premier League striker, arguably one Chelsea have missed this season.

Huge Summer Ahead for Chelsea

The 2-0 loss at Goodison Park capped off a disappointing week for the Blues after midweek defeat at home to PSG confirmed their elimination from the Champions League. Guus Hiddink has done a very good job in his caretaker role since the sacking of Jose Mourinho in December. Chelsea have not lost a Premier League since the 2-1 defeat to Leicester that brought the end to Mourinho’s second tenure at Stamford Bridge. Since assuming temporary charge, Hiddink, boasts a record of eight wins, seven draws and just three defeats in all competitions and has overseen a steady improvement in their form and confidence. However, with a top four place out of reach and hopes of a trophy as either the Champions League or the FA Cup now gone, the focus should tilt towards preparation for the future.

The first, and most important, signing Chelsea must make is a new manager. The speculation it will be Italy’s current head coach Antonio Conte has intensified in recent weeks, but whoever it is, his appointment will be the key to the direction and style that will surely influence the business they deem necessary this summer. Essentially, Chelsea has a title winning squad, but for whatever reason or reasons, it dramatically fell apart this season. The incumbent manager should not have a complete rebuilding job on his hands, but will have some important decisions to make as another chapter of their successful era comes to a close.

Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Jose Mourinho have already departed and this summer, so too will captain John Terry. Replacing a defender the quality of Terry would be difficult enough, but replacing his leadership, experience and influence will make the task all the harder. A senior central defender to lead and organise Chelsea defence could be the signing that defines Chelsea’s new manager, but as pivotal as that decision will be, there will be other important questions to answer.

First, there is the Eden Hazard conundrum. The Belgian was outstanding last season and as important to their defence as he was the attack. Whenever they were under prolonged pressure, the defence had to find Hazard and they could virtually guarantee him to keep the ball and either launch a counter attack or draw a foul to break up the game; either way, it gave the defence an opportunity to clear their lines and get reorganised. This season, he’s looked a pale comparison of the confident player he was, too easily dispossessed and ineffective in attack. Despite a poor season, his talent is not in question and with rumours of interest from Europe persisting, what they do with their star name could be interesting and should they sell, finding a game changer will be a necessity.

The full-back positions could be another area under discussion; where or not Cesar Azpilicueta reverts to left-back or remains on his natural right side of the pitch. Left-back Baba Rahman was brought in for over £20m last summer, but has had little opportunity and has even seen Brazilian winger Kenedy picked ahead of him in recent games. If Conte takes over at Chelsea, he is known for his propensity of playing a back three which could present an opportunity in a wing-back role. However things are configured, it seems Branislav Ivanovic’s time at right-back has come to an end, though he will likely still have a part to play in their transition.

Another key area sure to come under scrutiny is central midfield where Nemanja Matic has not looked as imposing and Cesc Fabregas has regressed and struggled to have the same creative influence on games. A central midfielder to control the tempo of matches is another issue Chelsea will need to address in the summer and a striker can also be added to that list. It shouldn’t be about replacing Diego Costa, unless he elects to leave, it should be about providing adequate back-up or even a strike partner for the Spanish international who has had a record of niggling injuries.

So, there are key areas of the team that will come under focus this summer at Chelsea and the word transition has been used, but with the right manager and potentially just a few players they could well be back in the title race next season.